They are sitting side by side on a beige tweed sofa. She has taken her shoes off; her hands are clutched together in her lap. He is sipping iced tea and smoking a cigarette. A shaggy black terrier dozes under the glass coffee table. They are both watching "60 Minutes."
What might seen to be a normal Sunday evening scene is not normal at all for Jacqueline Jarrett and Wayne Hammon as they sit in the living room of this ranch-style home in a Chicago suburb. What makes this night different -- painfully, nervously different -- is that the faces on the portable television set mirror the faces in the living room.
Jacqueline Jarrett and Wayne Hammon are watching their guts spill out on national television.
"I would never have thought that by living a normal life I'd wind up on national TV," Hammon says, twirling a metal cigarette lighter in his hand.
They are listening to Morley Safer tell millions of people what makes them, an otherwise ordinary couple who work hard, clean house, shovel snow and walk their dog, special enough to tell their story.
"Couple" is the key word here.
Jacqueline Jarrett and Wayne Hammon are not married. They are, as Hammon describes it, partners." Both divorced from different spouses, they have been living together for almost three years, Hammon, 29, has no children, but Jarrett, 36, has three daughters. And, last December, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that those children could not live with their mother. By choosing to live with a man she loves but to whom she is not married, the court said, Jarrett "offends prevailing public policy."
Jacqueline Jarrett is one of 1.1 million single parents who have chosen a non-traditional life style -- to live with someone not her spouse. For what she views as valid reasons, Jarrett bucked the traditional life style and, in essence, she feels the court put her morality on trail. On a personal level, Jacqueline Jarrett's decision to live with Wayne Hammon has cost her the custody of her children. On a broader level, it has set a precedent for custody cases across the country. The court's warning to single parents in similar situations her lawyer feels, was simple: Have your roommate move out, marry him or lose your kids.
Burton Joseph, a Chicago attorney and a member of the board of directors of the American and Chicago Civil Liberties Union, said, "From a civil liberties point of view, the decision is outrageous. It invades the traditional area of privacy into which the courts have been reluctant to interfere. What is ostensibly for the benefit of the child is simply the imposition of the court of its own standards of morality onto others who are in fact equally moral but who have chosen a different life style. The result will be hasty marriages, and the separation of what had been a stable relationship. In the long run, it is inimical to the interests of the child living under such circumstances."
There are no children now in this living room, in this house that Jacqueline Jarrett once shared with Walter Jarrett. That marriage ended in divorce on Dec. 6, 1976.In May 1977, Wayne Hammon moved into Jacqueline Jarrett's house. Walter Jarrett found out, sued for child custody and won. For the past, 2 1/2 years, the three children have been living eight blocks away, in a two-bedroon apartment with Walter Jarrett. Sunday is not one of the days the court has said the children may spend with their mother.
Jacqueline Jarrett's daughters still have their own rooms in her home. The doors are decorated with handdrawn signs and posters. There are bicycles in the garage and games in the basement. The girl's pictures hang on the living room wall. Jacqueline Jarrett still find it difficult to send them back to their father.
Perhaps, at this moment, it is better that they are not here to feel the tension as the tick-tick-tick of the "60 Minutes" clock signals the beginning of the Jarrett-versus-jarrett segment. Jacqueline Jarrett lights a cigarette. Hammon puts his left arm around her shoulders.
"Mount Prospect is not Malibu," Safer is saying, and the couple on the couch chuckles. Safer is absolutely right. Mount Prospect is not even the North Side of Chicago. It is a conservative, middle-class, bedroom community of simple home and garden apartments situated under the flight patterns of O'Hare Airport. People here don't ski in Aspen or drive Mercedes Benz. People here work two jobs and clip grocery store coupons. People here have sent Rep. Philip Crane to Congress for five terms.
Jacqueline Jarrett watches her lawyer being interviewed on television. He is saying that if Jarrett had been an alcoholic, a bank robber, a prostitute or a drug addict, the court would have had to find that "present harm" -- not future harm -- was being done to her children before she would have lost custody. He is talking about "legislating morality," about "marriage by edict," about "motherhood on trial." "
The television scene switches to the office of Walter Jarrett's lawyer, Jacqueline Jarrett's eyes widen and she leans forward, as if she could hear better by sitting six inches closer to the screen. She listens to this interview and then shouts at the picture.
What attorney Arthur Solomon has just said is that Wayne Hammon and Jacqueline Jarrett told a judge of the beginning of the custody battle that they would never get married. "He always says that, and it's just not true. Geez," Jarrett says, and covers her face with her hands. "That's such bull----," Hammon cries, shaking his fist at the image on the screen. "He makes us sound like left-wing radicals."
Such a description hardly applies.
Jarrett, the daughter of a tool and tie maker, moved from Detroit to Chicago when she was five years old. She became a secretary after graduating from a local Luthern high school. She went to work at a chemical company and met Walter Jarrett, who was a chemist there. She was 20 and he was 26 when they married on Sept. 28, 1963, in a Catholic Church.
They had their daughters, and 15, 13 and 10 years old. They went to church every Sunday, saved their money and bought a house. They were living what they had imagined was their piece of the American dream. But the marriage was in trouble.
"I suppose you could say it was a rather paternal relationship," she was saying earlier Sunday over lunch at one of Mount Prospect's new wood-and-green-plant bars. "And then, I realized I didn't want a father anymore.
In 1975, she went into therapy and enrolled in college. None of it made her marriage any better. The Jarretts separated and were divorced a year later. He did not request custody of their daughters.
Jacqueline Jarrett met Wayne Hammon through a co-worker at her office. They dated, fell in love, and talked of living together. "At the time, I was not emotionally psychologically or financially ready to get married," she says. "No divorces are nice, but mine had been particularly rough. It wasn't that I was so afraid of getting married again, it was that I couldn't face the idea of getting divorced again. The girls had grown fond of Wayne and I talked to them about having him move in. They had no objections."
Walter Jarrett, a devout Catholic, did.
Jacqueline told her ex-husband that Hammon was going to move in. "I wasn't going to hide it. I was divorced. I didn't feel he had the right to tell me how to live," she said. Walter Jarrett sued for custody in July 1977.
Jacqueline Jarrett talked to two attorneys before the custody case went to court. Both left her with the impression that the judge would offer her two choices: have Hammon move out, or marry him. Her lawyers told her the burden of proof would lie with Walter Jarrett's side, that he would have to prove the children were suffering harm by living in a home with an unmarried couple.
"Nobody ever said, "Jackie, there's a good chance you'll lose the children.' I was told the law was my protection," she says. Hammon interrupts: "If I had known what was going to happen, I would have moved out."
The trial court hearing took 45 minutes. The children were not present. Under questioning Jacqueline Jarrett admitted that Walter was a good father. In turn, he admitted she was a good mother. He told the court that his sole objection was his ex-wife's living arrangement, that it was an environment not appropriate, proper or moral for young girls to grow up in. At the end, the Judge awarded custody to Walter Jarrett.
The Illinois Appellate court reversed the lower court ruling, saying the record did not show any negative effects on the children because of Jacqueline Jarrett's living arrangement. The children moved back to her. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and stayed the appellate court ruling. The children moved back in with their father.
Calling Jacqueline Jarrett's living arrangement with Hammon a "troublesome relationship," the Supreme Court overturned the appellate court's decision. Ruling in December 1979, the court said that relationship "contravened statutorily declared standards of conduct and endangered the children's moral development."
"The children have not been torn from her breast," Walter Jarrett's lawyer, Arthur Solomon, said yesterday. Jarrett himself would not be interviewed.
The ruling, says Jacqueline Jarrett's lawyer, Michael Minton, "is frightening. The court has told single parents that if you choose to live with someone for whatever reason, you either marry that person or lose custody of your children. The court presumes that children are going to be harmed [by such a relationship] at some time in the future. How can you possibly say that?"
"If children are living in a firetrap, you don't have to wait until they are burned to show they are in danger," Solomon counters.
The court has "attempted to regulate a person's life sytle by using children as weapon," Milton says. "It is a shocking judicial statement, an attempt to legislate out of existence a certain type of conduct.
"Basic and fundamental to this case is the right not to marry. Jackie was married when the children were born. Does she have to stay married to continue to be a mother?"
"What bothers me is when people talk about morality," Jacqueline Jarrett says. "They seem to be talking about sexual morality. They don't take into consideration the rest of a person's morals. I don't feel immoral.
"Wayne would not have lived here if the children had objected. They said they felt we were "the same as being married.' People are always asking me why we don't get married now. It wouldn't make any difference in the case. There is no guarantee I'd ever get my children back just because Wayne and I got married."
Minton is writing a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. He feels Jacqueline Jarrett's constitutional rights is due process, equal protection and freedom of association have been violated. But Minton is also a realist. He knows that the Supreme Court hears only 4 percent of the cases brought to it. He knows that even if the court agrees to hear the case, it could be another year before it is decided, before Jarrett has a chance of getting her children back.
When Jarrett thinks in those terms, it is never "if" the children come back, but "when," Her life for the past 2 1/2 years has been "up and down. Sometimes I cry a lot."
Her daughters visit her on Tuesday night for dinner and on Friday night they sleep over in the home they were taken from. When asked whether it isn't ludicrous to say it is permissible for the children to witness their mother's life style two nights a week but not the rest of the time, Arthur Solomon replies, "It's a compromise."
It is a compromise Jacqueline Jarrett has never gotten used to.
"Being a good parent is not based on how much you buy your children or how many places you take them," she says, sitting now before the television screen in her living room. "Being a good parent is based on what you give of yourself. I miss helping them with their homework or just having someone else to hug. They are becoming young ladies and they need me now."
Morley Safer is back on the television screen. He is asking Jacqueline Jarrett a hypothetical question." If you had the justices of the Supreme Court behind the camera, what would you say to them?" Safer asks. The face on the screen stares into the camera and replies, "I want my children back."
The television broadcast is over. Jacqueline Jarrett begins to cry in her living room. "I wish it was that simple," she says.